The KRAS mutation is one of the leading driver mutations in colorectal cancer (CRC), and it is usually associated with poor prognosis and drug resistance. Therapies targeting the epidermal growth factor receptor (EFGR) are widely used for end-stage CRC. However, patients with KRAS mutant genes cannot benefit from this therapy because of Ras signaling activation by KRAS mutant genes. Our previous study revealed the anti-proliferative effect of 4-acetyl-antroquinonol B (4-AAQB) on CRC cells, but whether the drug is effective in KRAS-mutant CRC remains unknown. We screened CRC cell lines harboring the KRAS mutation, namely G12A, G12C, G12V and G13D, with one wild type cell line as the control; SW1463 and Caco-2 cell lines were used for further experiments. Sulforhodamine B assays, together with the clonogenicity and invasion assay, revealed that KRAS-mutant SW1463 cells were resistant to cetuximab; however, 4-AAQB treatment effectively resensitized CRC cells to cetuximab through the reduction of colony formation, invasion, and tumorsphere generation and of oncogenic KRAS signaling cascade of CRC cells. Thus, inducing cells with 4-AAQB before cetuximab therapy could resensitize KRAS-mutant, but not wild-type, cells to cetuximab. Therefore, we hypothesized that 4-AAQB can inhibit KRAS. In silico analysis of the publicly available GEO (GSE66548) dataset of KRAS-mutated versus KRAS wild-type CRC patients confirmed that miR-193a-3p was significantly downregulated in the former compared with the latter patient population. Overexpression of miR-193a-3p considerably reduced the oncogenicity of both CRC cells. Furthermore, KRAS is a key target of miR-193a-3p. In vivo treatment with the combination of 4-AAQB and cetuximab significantly reduced the tumor burden of a xenograft mice model through the reduction of the expression of oncogenic markers (EGFR) and p-MEK, p-ERK, and c-RAF/p-c-RAF signaling, with the simultaneous induction of miR-193a-3p expression in the plasma. In summary, our findings provide strong evidence regarding the therapeutic effect of 4-AAQB on KRAS-mutant CRC cells. Furthermore, 4-AAQB effectively inhibits Ras singling in CRC cells, through which KRAS-mutant CRC can be resensitized to cetuximab.
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